A behind-the-scenes look at how lawmakers learn about conservation
Between its history and its symbolism, the United States Capitol—all gleaming marble and towering columns—is a little, well, intimidating. Standing in its shadow, you might forget that this imposing building is the seat of government for the people, by the people—a government that needs input and action from people like you.
That’s why we were proud to climb the steps up to the Capitol last week with a group of over 50 staff and volunteers from around the country. They gathered for The Trust for Public Land’s Day on The Hill—a full day of meetings with members of Congress to make the case for conservation, face-to-face. All told, we met with 65 elected officials or their staffs.
Volunteer Alden Garrett traveled from Seattle to meet with four members of Congress from Washington State. To prepare, she studied up on the federal government’s role in creating and maintaining our parks and open spaces, from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the Antiquities Act. “We just had 30 minutes in each office, and we had a lot of information to cover, so each meeting was a real whirlwind,” says Garrett.
For Garrett, the experience offered insight into how information can influence policymakers. “You realize how many different priorities and directions your representatives are pulled in,” she says. “In a lot of cases, even if they’re broadly supportive of public lands, legislators don’t actually know as much about the finer points—especially when it comes to programs that aren’t obviously about conservation. We really had a job to do in educating them and deepening their understanding of the issues.”
Trust for Public Land staff joined the meetings to help with the details. “They had a handle on all the wonky, technical stuff that goes into a bill,” Garrett says. “Which is good, because the legislators and their staff really were there to learn—about the issues, but also about the people they represent, and why we were there speaking up for parks.”
“Our representatives are on the front lines of this debate. If they know how these issues affect their constituents, they’ll be able to take a stronger stand for public lands.” With that in mind, Garrett made sure to illustrate her points with personal stories. “I talked about how much we value the bike trail that my husband rides to work each morning … even memories of our family trips to national parks.”
If you’ve got stories of your own, you don’t need to fly across the country to share them: check out our primer on how to write a letter to your representative. We also need your support in our fight for public lands, on Capitol Hill and across the country. And if you’re feeling crafty, you can make a poster for our online rally for public lands on Facebook.
“I really do believe that more people are taking action than ever before,” says Garrett. “From getting involved with groups like The Trust for Public Land to educating friends and family—there are so many good ways to make your voice heard. If you believe in the value of nature and making sure everyone can access, it’s so important to speak up. We can’t let up for a minute.”
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